Sector - Health & Safety

Construction workers at risk from poor mental health

Following mental health week, new research shows that half of all UK construction workers, or 1.5m people have worked in a dangerous environment while suffering poor mental health and close to 700,000 suffered injuries, according to new research from business insurer QBE.

For the first time, QBE research shows the cost to the UK construction industry from poor mental health. QBE surveyed 362 UK construction workers about their mental health at work. The results indicate that even with the increased risk of injury, they are likely to continue to work.

Three quarters of UK construction workers with poor mental health said at some point they continued to work in a dangerous situation despite the increased risk involved. In addition, more than one quarter of construction workers (27%) have taken time off in the last 12 months due to poor mental health, with almost half of them (46%) taking at least one week off.

The research also shows that in the UK construction industry, more than 5.1 million working days were lost to poor mental health last year, this compares to 18 million working days for the whole UK economy. The construction sector is one of the largest in the UK economy – employing 3.1 million people or over 9% of the workforce.

According to government reports, stress, depression or anxiety account for almost half (49%) of all work-related ill health. And it is the biggest cause of lost workdays in the UK with work-related ill health accounting for over half (54%) of working days lost.

Speaking at The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) conference in Manchester this week, QBE is encouraging employers to do more to support and protect their workers.

David Dexter, Practice Leader, Risk Solutions at QBE Europe, said: “Mental health issues are the biggest cause of lost workdays in the UK and a contributing factor in many workplace incidents.

“The UK construction industry is no exception; we are only too aware how mental health can be the hidden driver behind an incident or claim.

“We’ve just celebrated Construction Safety Week and are partway through Mental Health Awareness Week so worker safety should be front of mind for firms. Even a small positive change in an employer’s approach to wellbeing and mental health can substantially address and change workplace pressure points resulting in less stress and fewer accidents and incidents.

“Improving workplace culture by encouraging openness and demystifying stigmas when discussing mental health demonstrates to staff that their health and wellbeing should be a business priority.”

Key findings from the research include:

  • Half of workers in the industry or 1.5m people have worked in a dangerous environment while experiencing poor mental health.
  • More than one in five (22%), or 682,000 workers report they have suffered an injury at work as a result of poor mental health.
  • For those that have continued to work with mental ill health; the majority (76%) say mental ill health increases risk of injury.
  • Mental health costs UK construction industry at least £1.2bn per annum with 1.7 days lost per worker and 5.1m lost working days last year.
  • More than one quarter (27%) are uncomfortable discussing mental health with their employer.
  • One third (32%) of workers said their employer has never once checked in with them about their mental health.
  • Absent construction workers are likely to lie about the reason when it is related to mental health and give a different reason for their time off; over a third (38%) of respondents said they told an employer the reason they were absent from work was due to a physical condition, when it was in fact due to poor mental health.
  • 36% have been prevented from speaking openly about their mental health due to workplace stigma.

If you are suffering from mental health or need support, please contact the NHS urgent mental health helpline in England here:

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